07.- 11.06
2021

P 33

Challenges of the future - care for the afterlife in Africa and its diaspora

Sabine Klocke-Daffa,  Universität Tübingen, Asien-Orient-Institut, Abt. Ethnologie
Sophia Thubauville, Frobenius-Institut, Universität Frankfurt

 

 

Short abstract:

In many African countries and diaspora communities funerals are figuring among the most elaborate and costly social events. This panel wants to discuss the creative way Africans on the continent and in the diaspora deal with the challenges they face due to the high cost of caring for the afterlife.

 

Among the many challenges African societies are facing, social security is one of the most pressing issues to be addressed. Since most African states have few social benefits to offer, individuals must make own provisions for times of crisis. Rather than relying exclusively on informal ways of support, new possibilities have been sought which allow for maintaining familial obligations and social norms without threatening individual economic achievement. However, some forms of social security have been so successful that they have been adopted in diaspora communities in host countries with very sophisticated social security systems. Caring for the future entails the care for the life of the living as well as for the afterlife of the dead. Funerals are figuring among the most elaborate and costly social events of a family or community consuming large amounts of financial and material resources. Some diaspora communities are also faced with the high costs of repatriation of bodies of the deceased. In order to cover the expenses, new forms of safeguarding have been accessed or creatively been developed. Among them are rotating credit associations, funeral and life insurances, and the negotiation of "death benefits" as part of work contracts. Getting engaged in one of the "caring units" are locals as well as external family members and international diaspora communities.

This panel wants to discuss the creative way Africans on the continent and in the diaspora deal with the challenges they face due to the high cost of caring for the afterlife. We invite papers that focus either on forms of social security, on funerals, and /or care for the afterlife.

Life is believed to be cyclical among the Nzema Akan societies. In their worldview, there is a strong affinity between the living and the dead. Death is only a continuation of life, therefore indigenous ritualistic procedures are performed for the dying, death and burial no matter the circumstance surrounding a person's death, to keep the relationship between them and the ancestral world. Nowadays, it would seem that the state of dying, death and burial is in crises- family ubuntu is changing rapidly and giving way to individual/modern mechanisms. Changes in funerals is subtly shifting from the traditional to a more material culture-economics underpins every activity from death, dying to burial/funeral rituals- The funeral homes/mortuary, posters, announcements, Funeral procession, cloths, and also a show of a rich or poor funerals, Christian or Traditional funerals, educated or illiterate funerals, rural or urban Nzema dweller funerals just to mention a few.

The paper argues that, there is a gradual shift from indigenous rituals associated with dying, death and burial—that present-day funerals are heavily commercialized and predominantly nuclear in contrary to the indigenous extended ubuntu funerals. It examines the sociology of funeral economy in contemporary Ghana, paying attention to the rituals of Nzema Akan in urban and rural areas in the wake of cultural change. Ethnographic research design was used in following funeral organization in four towns and villages in Nzemaland. Findings indicates that, expenditure on funerals is imperative to people as it means they have given the dead a befitting burial and that the rituals and traditions of the dying, death and burial are not so important to younger generations much as they are to the older Nzema who lives in the village or city.

Genevieve Nrenzah is Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana

The end of apartheid marked a clear change of direction for South African insurance companies. South African insurance companies, which are deeply rooted in the global financial world, increasingly began to target the African population, a vast market that had been previously neglected. They started selling a wide variety of insurance policies, but especially funeral insurance, which have proven to be very popular.

This presentation examines this process of financialisation, by which I mean that financial products and services are becoming ever more integrated in everyday life. It raises the question why Africans living in the townships of Cape Town purchase funeral insurances, especially in light of the myriad of burial societies that already exist. I argue that the advantage of funeral insurance lies in the new ways in which it enables care for the dead. Funeral insurance make it possible to transform the personal and institutional networks that are central to financing and organizing funerals. This transformation has an emancipatory dimension in that it helps people to counter some of the inequalities that are inherent to care, especially within burial societies and among kin. At the same time, when people use financial services and products to establish relations with the dead, they create new tensions, especially among kin. I show that these new tensions are because financialisation makes it possible for people to circulate money in invisible and abstract ways.

The research draws on a wide range of research methods, including interviews with actuaries, insurance salespeople, clients, funeral parlours, and undertakers. I carried out fieldwork in the African townships of Cape Town and used the extended case method and participant observation to gain insight into specific events such as funerals, bureaucratic problems, insurance claims, and the politics of everyday life. The findings also draw on two questionnaires that were carried out: one was carried out among South African actuaries and one among residents of two townships in Cape Town.

With the end of Apartheid in Namibia, private insurance companies opened their product range to what they called the “black market”. Today, they are making huge profits by covering a relatively high percentage of the population. The demand for insurances is not only due to a lack of social security and welfare programs provided by the state but also to the attractiveness of the products: they allow for channeling social obligations and individual provisions, in particular those connected to the care of the afterlife.

Much like in South Africa, funeral insurances became more and more popular among customers and were even conceived of as a sign of “modernity” when offered as a social benefit by employers. When incomes were rising, life insurances became affordable which are mostly taken out as pure risk policies – thus due only after the death of the policyholder. Since life insurances may involve high payout amounts of up to several million dollars, companies advise their customers to designate beneficiaries and possibly also sign a testament as a way of settling personal assets in order to specify who will be cared for after death (“then you can die”). However, neither companies nor insurance brokers are too familiar with the provisions of customary laws which may clash with national inheritance laws. This paper looks into the cultural implications of formal insurances and asks whether life covers withstand expectations to serve as a promise of care for the dead and the living.

In this paper, I intend to develop a narrative about how Ethiopians (both in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian diasporas) deal with lekso (“funerals”) financially, culturally, politically, and emotionally. Some of the questions the paper explores include: who does what during leksos and why? What are the meanings of participating in leksos? What are some of the mechanisms that people use to shoulder the financial, social, and emotional burdens of lekso? How are practices associated to lekso in Ethiopia different from and similar to lekso practices in the Ethiopian diasporas? How is the home-diaspora nexus shaped by the repatriation of dead bodies from the diasporas to Ethiopia? What are the cultural politics of repatriation? Whose dead bodies can and cannot be repatriated, and why? Using three case studies of lekso in Los Angeles and Seattle, and invoking my own personal experiences with the leksos of my deceased mother and two brothers, I will examine how lekso and its associated practices change over time and across various national/cultural contexts; and contribute to the discourses about challenges of the future-care for the afterlife in Africa and its diaspora.

Workus Nida is Assistant Professor at the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside

Self-help groups (iddir) have long been indispensable for the financing and organisation of funerals in Ethiopia. For people of Ethiopian origin these groups are fundamental as burials are the most important and lavishly celebrated life-cycle events of a person and should therefore be according to his/her own culture. Besides the high costs for the funeral service, there are often additional costs for the repatriation of bodies of the deceased. Therefore, such self-help groups are also organized in the Ethiopian diaspora even in host countries with very sophisticated social security systems.

In the diaspora, such groups have found new ways and means to support their members during funerals and repatriations. While in Ethiopia such groups are usually organized by neighborhood, in the diaspora they are either much smaller and have a more sophisticated financing system or they have a large amount of members that are organized in virtual space.

The lecture will show the creative way in which the successful model of the Ethiopian self-help group is adapted to the diaspora situation with all its new possibilities and challenges.

Sophia Thubauville is Researcher at the Frobenius Institute for Research in Cultural Anthropology, Frankfurt am Main

In the absence and inadequacy of formal support systems provided by the state or the market, informal support systems play an immense role in supporting the needs of people. The study aims to explore one of the indigenous informal support systems in Ethiopia, Iddir. Its role of social and economic support in urban communities, the gender and class dynamics within the institution, and its evolvement are explored. The different practices in the institution are analyzed from a commons perspective. Key findings from a thematic analysis of in-depth and key-informant interviews conducted with members, leaders, and stakeholders of three Iddirs in Addis Ababa City indicate they are providing solutions to societal problems at the grass-roots level. Iddirs evolved and widen their function from being just a burial society into active community development actors. Based on the analysis of the qualitative data obtained, it can be concluded that Iddir is instrumental at the grassroots level in addressing social, economic, and environmental issues. It has an enormous potential because of its social capital and network which can be further utilized. Its collaboration, cooperation and coordination capabilities will go a long way in ensuring societal impact.